Peter Moore puts his trust in the advice of two old Babushkas and enjoys the cheapest - and tastiest - meal in the Russian capital.
After a few days in Moscow I became convinced that only oligarchs could afford to eat in restaurants there. Even the most downmarket establishments seemed glitzy and eye-wateringly expensive. If I wasn’t being chased away by huffy waiters afraid I’d bring down the tone of their establishments, it was the gold-embossed menus that turned me away.
I couldn’t always understand what was on offer. But the number of zeroes after each dish made it clear that it was well out of my price range.
More often than not I’d join the rest of the proletariat at one of the ubiquitous ‘Crapdozi’ franchise hot dog stands. By day three in Moscow I’d had enough.
I caught the metro out to Universitet, the station closest to Moscow University. I figured that students would know where to get a decent meal at a decent price. But the students were on a term break so I had to ask two old babushkas (grandmothers) instead. They were selling flowers outside the station entrance and pointed to an ‘exotic disco’ just across the way.
In Moscow an ‘exotic disco’ is a downbeat gentleman’s club. This one featured a tacky mural of a scantily clad girl lounging provocatively over the smoked glass entrance door. I thought that the grannies must have misunderstood what I was after so I did the universal charade for eating. They rolled their eyes, convinced I was a little thick, and pointed again to the disco. I remember wondering what exactly I was going to find on the menu.
It was late afternoon so the disco was empty. The manager said that the show wouldn’t start for another three hours but I was welcome to eat a meal. He directed me to a table, just to the right of the stage. Two girls, silhouetted behind a thin black curtain, practised their pole dancing moves for the night ahead. One was suggesting that the other needed to get her leg a little higher and showed her how to do it.
Soon the waitress came over. She was wearing nothing but a g-string and two strategically placed tassels. I pointed to the only thing I recognised on the menu – schnitzel – and ordered a beer to go with it. I asked if I was going to get charged extra for her attire and she just laughed. It just her uniform, she said. Nothing special.
The meal came. So did my beer. And when I finally got my bill it was the cheapest meal I’d eaten in Moscow. It was also one of the most surreal dining experiences of my life. One that I would never have experienced without some local advice.
On the way out I passed the babushkas coming in. They’d finished selling flowers for the day and were spending some of their hard-earned on a meal before heading home. I thanked them again for their tip and they gave me a toothless smile.
The kind of smile that comes from eating one too many Crapdozi hot dogs.